In a town sometimes accused of artistic blandness and bureaucratic conformity, it's all the more surprising and exciting to find a spot where the usual rules don't apply. The Museum of Contemporary Art is a gallery devoted to local, unusual and "in your face" art -- art that most galleries in the District don't or won't show. Exhibitions fly through at a furious pace, changing about every two weeks. In one recent month, there were painted portraits of local chefs punctuated by thousands of hors d'oeuvres placed under their creators' likeness; an exhibition and reading devoted to Korean poetry and art; a Mexican Day of the Dead celebration featuring a mural of dancing skeletons; and a single-artist show of surrealist paintings.
The MOCA (pronounced "mocha") is housed in what might be called the gallery row of Georgetown, around the corner from Blues Alley. From M Street, turn into the walkway directly opposite Urban Outfitters and walk until you reach a courtyard. Then turn hard to your right, parallel to the C&O Canal. Through the glass front of the "museum," you might see gallery director Michael Clark (he goes by Clark) working on one of his own artworks, which in the past have included still lifes ranging in style from Byzantine mosaics to pop art.
The MOCA is pretty much a labor of love. Though it's run as a nonprofit operation ($25 memberships are tax-deductible), the museum gets no city or federal money, and commissions are by donation only. Browsers are welcome; prices range from $50 to $20,000. Clark says he tries to turn a profit by selling his own work in New York galleries. "In D.C., people are mostly looking to buy wallpaper," he says, referring to what he considers to be Washingtonians' conservative taste in art. Known for his support of the local art community, Clark considers MOCA a public service, since it's one of the few D.C. galleries that show local unknowns and experimental artists. If you think local spaces are starting to look the same, take in MOCA.